Emerging from a meeting on electoral reform Monday, senior ruling party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said that the government is considering modifying Cambodia’s nationality law to ban those with dual citizenship from running for the office of prime minister.
Mr. Yeap, who represented the CPP at the second meeting of the new joint-party Electoral Reform Committee on Monday, explained that the change, which he said would help prevent treason, would not be introduced immediately but was one of the government’s long-term plans.
“We want the prime minister to have only a single nationality, and not two nationalities,” Mr. Yeap told reporters after the meeting.
“For example, if someone has two nationalities—one French and one Khmer—when the Khmer have a dispute with the French, which side will that prime minister take?” Mr. Yeap asked.
“This will take a long time and will be in the nationality law.”
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who lived in Paris until 1993 after his family was exiled under then-Prince Sihanouk in 1965, holds dual French and Cambodian citizenship. The CNRP president has twice fled to France to avoid criminal convictions—most recently between 2009 and 2013—in a case brought against him by the government.
Mr. Rainsy said by telephone Monday that he would be prepared to renounce his French citizenship if the ruling CPP introduced such a measure.
“Of course I would give up my French citizenship,” he said. “I would give up my life for this country, this is only a minor problem.”
Mr. Rainsy said he no longer needed France as a “safe place” to flee what he termed intimidation and violence from the ruling CPP.
“This has been a strength,” Mr. Rainsy said. “But now my strength is the support of the Cambodian people. With this strength, and with the overwhelming and growing support of the Cambodian people, I am invincible. I do not need anything else.”
“At least it shows that they are worried—in Myanmar, the military junta a long time ago created a law against [Burmese opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi to prevent anyone with such links to foreigners from being a candidate,” he added, in reference to the Burmese Constitution’s ban on those with foreign spouses or children from running for president.
The provision, which has been widely criticized, is expected to be repealed by the Burmese government before next year’s election.
Contacted after the meeting, Mr. Yeap stressed there was no immediate push for the change, which would come in the future.
“It is our plan, and we want to do it for Cambodia’s next generation,” he said. “It is not time yet, [the idea] is a shadow.”
The CPP last threatened a ban on Cambodians with foreign nationality from running for office in April 1996, when then-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen made an apparent jibe at First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh who, like many in the Funcinpec Party, also holds French nationality.
“What you must be ready to do is abandon your foreign nationality. If you don’t abandon it, you will never have the right to be nominees or representatives,” Mr. Hun Sen said at the time, having noted that both Prince Ranariddh and King Norodom Sihanouk were in Paris.
In July of the following year, Prince Ranariddh made use of his French passport to flee when forces loyal to Mr. Hun Sen ousted him in streets battles with royalist forces.
Monday’s meeting of the Electoral Reform Committee, which was established by the CPP and CNRP last month, was the second meeting of the body after its members emerged from the Senate on March 3 with a joint-statement bearing little to no agreement on reforms.
The meeting failed to produce a statement.
Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, who represented the CPP at the meeting, said that the ruling party had focused on the political neutrality and independence of civil society groups during the election reform talks.
Son Chhay, who led the CNRP in the talks, said that measures to ensure the neutrality of the National Election Committee (NEC), which is dominated by the CPP, had again been discussed to no avail, with further meetings of the two parties necessary to come to an agreement.
“Points we cannot solve we will keep for the top leaders,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy said that if the CPP did not agree within the next week to a CNRP proposal to require two-thirds of the National Assembly to appoint members to the NEC—a change he described as fundamental to reform—there would be no future meetings of the joint-party committee.
“This is a test. If there is no positive response, there is no need to continue discussing issues further,” the opposition leader said.
“We will stop negotiating as the CPP will have shown her real face—that they just want to buy time and don’t want serious reform.”
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